Often the characters who become popular with readers are not the most capable or confident individuals in the story. Just like us, our favorite characters have strengths, weaknesses, and insecurities. At Writer’s Relief, we know that characters with insecurities are more believable and can help build empathy with your reader. A character’s insecurity can also impact how the story progresses, giving you an opportunity to show growth and development as your hero tries to conquer any shortcomings. Here’s how to write insecure characters who will resonate with readers.
How To Successfully Write Insecure Characters
Don’t use insecurity as a character trait. Basing your character on the sole premise of “being insecure” does not give them any dimension. No one is insecure in general. Rather, there should be something that the character is insecure about. Also, having an insecurity doesn’t automatically mean your character is weak, useless, whiny, or depressed. The insecurity can be contrasted with something the character is confident about, which gives them more dimension.
For example, your character could be a gifted singer who is insecure about performing live. Efforts to overcome this lack of confidence will give the plot some tension and help propel the story forward.
Choose the right insecurity. Insecurities come in many forms, the most common being a physical trait or ability that the character wishes were better. This can include being self-conscious about knitting skill, weight, or receding hairline. Your character might also have insecurities about relationships. If your hero has trouble trusting people, they will never take anyone at their word—even those they are close to.
Show the character’s lack of confidence. If you’re writing in first person, your character’s thoughts can reflect any insecurities. If you’re writing in third person, you can show the insecurity through body language or mannerisms.
If your character is insecure about public speaking, you might use inner dialogue to reveal how they wish they were as funny or as silver-tongued as another more charismatic character. Or, you can show readers how the character acts in front of an audience, stuttering and avoiding eye contact while talking.
Important note: There is a fine line between being insecure and being whiny. Don’t have your character complain nonstop if you want your audience to root for them—unless you’re writing an unsympathetic character. Be mindful of the impact you want to have with your characterization.
Reveal why the character is insecure. This is especially important if a character’s backstory impacts the overall plot. Delving more into the insecurity might even lead to a revelatory flashback. For instance, your protagonist might become self-conscious after observing how others are better at learning something new. The disappointment of a strict parent might be divulged to explain why the hero always feels pressured to succeed.
3 Questions To Ask When Writing An Insecure Character
How does the character handle insecurity? There are three main ways a character might deal with insecurity: overcompensation, risk avoidance, and self-sabotage. Whether your character chooses flight, fight, or freeze, the reaction should suit their personality. Maybe your character doesn’t bother preparing for a job interview because they are sure they’re not good enough. Or maybe the protagonist picks a fight with anyone who questions their skills.
What impact will the insecurity have on the plot? The genre and the specific insecurity can result in conflict later in the plot and even foreshadow problems yet to come. Of course, you don’t have to make the character’s self-doubt factor into your next big plot twist, but do consider any and all obstacles your hero could face along the way.
For example, your cowboy protagonist could have an unsteady aim due to nerves, which could make him miss an important shot later in the story. Or your elven princess, who has been taught she must be a strong, independent leader, might have trouble leaning on others—which means she doesn’t have a support system or much-needed, friendly advice when making a critical decision.
How will your character cope with insecurity? Will the character overcome the self-doubt, or will it continue to be an obstacle? Is it something your character can learn to accept and manage? Cath in Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell feels left behind by her sister and struggles with a social anxiety disorder, making her time at college miserable. She copes by writing fan fiction. Whatever resolution you choose, be sure it offers a satisfactory outcome for your readers.
By giving your character relatable insecurities, you help your readers connect with your story and become invested in the outcome. And once you’ve finished your short story or novel, be sure to overcome your own insecurities about submitting your work for publication! The research experts at Writer’s Relief will help you target the best markets and boost your odds of getting published. Learn more about our services and submit your writing sample today!
Question: Which insecure literary character is your favorite?